Quartz Daily Brief—Americas edition—BP cuts jobs, India and Switzerland rate surprises, papal visit, Star Wars prosthetics

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What to watch for today

US banks post earnings. Bank of America and Citigroup—the second- and third-largest US banks by assets—will reveal fourth-quarter numbers. Investors are hoping not to be surprised again by mounting legal fees.

Intel opens its books. Investors in the chipmaker will look for evidence of increasing demand for PCs in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, while Intel will try to focus attention on its expansion into making chips for tablets, as well as its progress in powering wearable technology.

Delving into US jobless numbers. Yesterday’s steep drop in December retail data surprised analysts, who worry that recent boosts in employment rates aren’t sustainable. They’ll be probing today’s jobless numbers to see.

BP starts North Sea job cuts. The oil major will brief staff (paywall) in Scotland on plans to cut hundreds of workers from its North Sea operations this year. BP has already cut wages in the region, and plummeting oil prices and rising costs could make the North Sea’s aging oil fields commercially nonviable.

Pope Francis lands in the Philippines. The Catholic leader’s public mass on Friday is expected to set a record at over 6 million people, assuming there aren’t any tropical storms, and excitement is rising. Security is especially tight, given the country’s history of papal assassination attempts.

While you were sleeping

The Swiss shocked global markets. Switzerland’s central bank gave up on targeting a minimum exchange rate of the franc against the euro, and slashed its benchmark interest rates deep into negative territory. The franc soared against the euro, gaining a whopping 30% at one point.

A Chinese taxi app raised $600 million. Japanese internet giant Softbank and online shopping giant Alibaba will invest in Kuaidi Group just as licensed taxi drivers across the country went on strike. The app started by connecting users to city-run taxis, but is moving into Uber-style private ride hailing.

India made a surprise interest rate cut. Central bank governor Raghuram Rajan reduced the repo rate to 7.75% and the reverse repo rate to 6.75% in an unscheduled meeting. Rajan said lower inflation spurred the rate cut.

Xiaomi went upmarket. The Xiaomi Note and the Xiaomi Note Plus both boast high-end specifications (including up to 2K HD screens and 4GB of RAM) and are built with metal and curved glass instead of Xiaomi’s traditional plastic. The Chinese manufacturer’s handsets will be sold for between $370 and $530.

BlackBerry and Samsung denied talks of a takeover. BlackBerry said it has not engaged in buyout discussions with the South Korean manufacturer; Samsung said reports that it recently offered to buy BlackBerry were “groundless.” Reuters first reported that Samsung had made a buyout offer valuing BlackBerry at $7.5 billion.

H&M is back in vogue. The Swedish clothing brand said December sales rose 15% compared with a year earlier, beating estimates of a 13.4% rise (paywall). The fast fashion retailer grew its stores 11% throughout fiscal 2014, and will report full-year earnings at the end of this month.

German GDP grew the fastest in three years. The country’s economy expanded by 1.5% in 2014, roughly in line with expectations. But annual growth for 2015 is predicted to be just 1.3%.

Quartz obsession interlude

Marion Maneker on the formula for a multi-billion-dollar startup. “I don’t think of Uber as a force that dis-intermediates—as we olds used to say—transportation, but one that creates value for itself, its drivers, and its users, by developing a new layer that integrates them all with maximum utility. A very talented developer once told me that the secret to a world-beating service like Dropbox was to make something very, very complicated seem devastatingly simple.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

If you break up US mega-banks, the Chinese win. America needs big banks to compete, says JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon (paywall).

Political dynasties are good for women. They often need a nudge to run for office.

Community college in the US should be free. Tom Hanks says he wouldn’t be where he is today (paywall) without it.

Asian central bankers have tunnel-vision. They’re so afraid of inflation so they don’t see deflation staring them in the face.

Afghanistan’s first priority should be its relationship with Pakistan. That means bringing the Taliban into the fold.

Stop telling kids to follow their dreams. They should develop a useful skill that applies to a practical job.

Surprising discoveries

Turkey is selling an ancient city. The 2,500-year-old Bargylia is mostly ruins now, but a popular tourist spot.

The FDA has approved a “hunger pacemaker.” The device blocks hunger pangs between mealtimes.

Conscientious men live longer. Emotionally stable and “agreeable” women also beat death better, according to one long-running study.

Americans spend an average $280,000 in interest payments. That typically includes nine car loans.

A seven-year-old boy was given a Star Wars Stormtrooper prosthetic arm. The 3D-printed gift is to encourage him to use his prosthetic more.

Science is coming after bird poachers. Scientists say they can now get fingerprints off of feathers and eggs of rare birds.

Burning cow dung near the Taj Mahal is now banned. The smoke was turning the white-marble landmark yellow.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, prosthetic arm designs, and marble cleaning ideas to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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